Recap: Working with internal stakeholders to bring big ideas to life

Having a big idea is the first step in a long journey toward bringing it to life. Before a new idea can go to market, you have to get top-level buy in and development support. But how do we as product managers and designers pitch ideas effectively to leadership, while creating buy in with dev teams?

Christian Beck, Lacy Lavies and Anna Eaglin of Innovatemap provide the following approach:

There are two groups of stakeholders whose buy-in can help move your idea forward:

  1. Executives – C-Levels, Presidents, Vice Presidents and Directors. Anyone who sits at the decision-making table. They care about the success of the product which translates to success of the business.
  2. The Development Team – Engineers and others involved in actually building and releasing the product, including QA who naturally care about the product’s quality. The dev team has to build your great idea – helping them understand why the idea helps the product, users and business helps the dev team translate the work from an idea on paper to a noble why.

These two groups want a different message. Are you pitching your idea with the wrong approach?

  • Product teams tend to sell ideas based on features: “With this new design our customer will be able to do X.”
  • Design teams tend to focus on the usability and experience: “With this new design, our users will be able to do X more effectively.”

However, 

  • Leadership wants to know that this new design is the right thing for the business. How will it support the product strategy? Compete against similar products?
  • To win leadership over, explain the problem that’s being solved. Identify the business opportunity the new design opens up and tie the idea to the current business goals
  • Be ready to describe the expected business impact and paint a picture of the great new future the business will live in once the new idea and its design have been implemented.
  • The development team wants to know why this new design is being built and how it will make the product better for users and as a crafted system. They have to build it … why should they?
  • Be ready to describe why the idea matters, not just what the idea is and how its final design works. Dev teams want to know how you got to the idea and its implementation just as much as they need to know exactly how it behaves.

Take for example, Dropbox.

  • Dropbox was a cloud-syncing company until they famously rejected an offer from Steve Jobs to be acquired. Jobs in return vowed to kill Dropbox with a similar product offering from Apple. 
  • But by 2013 Dropbox had started to pivot their product from a cloud-syncing company to a business services and productivity company. They sought to grow and expand inside businesses, not just be a single feature purchase.
  • Since then they’ve introduced a host of features that make creating and sharing work easier for businesses and embed their product deeper and more fully into the daily activities of a business. 
  • As a designer or product manager, how might you sell a new idea at Dropbox during this time? 
    • Describe to leadership how the new idea and its design will help the business to land and expand. For example, if the new design makes sharing more easy, usable, or more of a star of a feature, explain how sharing is critical to expanding inside a business. 
    • Current users will naturally want to share what they’ve already done with others on the same platform they’re already using. Making sharing easier would be one way to expand to more users inside a business and make Dropbox a product the business could never take away from its employees and the network of users creating and sharing on the Dropbox platform. 

Finally, don’t spend all your design time on the design of the new idea itself. Reserve some time to showing through a storyboard or other illustrative technique the benefit the product offers now and how that benefit will be increased or improved once the new idea and its design have been implemented. Illustrate the outcome to help leadership and your dev team visualize the why behind the design.

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